Saturday, December 27, 2014

2014 College Football Playoff: A Step, Not a Solution

This year marks a new era in college football as the first College Football Playoff will be played at the highest level of the collegiate sport.  Every other division of football at any level has played a playoff forever, but finally someone convinced the powers that be that they could make even more money if they have a playoff.  I'm not going to lie, I'm excited about the upcoming College Football Playoff, and this is one of the best seasons to start such a system as there are no teams that are the consensus top squads.  However, this is also the best season to show that this is still a work in progress.  This incarnation of the College Football Playoff is definitely a step in the right direction, but not the end-all solution.
Here is my problem with this 4-team playoff system.  There is said to be a "Power 5" conferences in FBS now: Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, and SEC.  The committee is said to value conference champions above almost anything else.  If that is the case, how can you have a playoff system with less than five teams.  A conference champion of a Power 5 conference (actually two since the Big 12 went for the cop out and named co-champions) was left out of the playoff even though they deserved that berth just as much as everyone that made it.  The ACC was the weakest of the five conferences this year, but their champion made it because they were the undefeated team (and defending champion).  So how do you leave out the Big 12 champ(s)?  The answer is you can't and still say there are a Power 5 equal conferences.
For the past few years, I have been writing posts championing what I called the "Holiday Madness Playoff."  This system would establish a 16-team playoff, giving automatic bids to each of the 10 conference champions, as well as six at large bids to the next top six teams.  This would give every team a chance at the top prize and set up a system that could potentially rival the March Madness basketball bracket.  Let's take a look at what the 16 team field this year would look like.

1.  Alabama (SEC Champ)
2.  Oregon (Pac-12 Champ)
3.  Florida St. (ACC Champ)
4.  Ohio St. (B1G Champ)
5.  Baylor (Big 12 Champ)
7.  Mississippi St. (AT LARGE)
8.  Michigan St. (AT LARGE)
9.  Ole Miss (AT LARGE)
10.  Arizona (AT LARGE)
11.  Kansas St. (AT LARGE)
12.  Boise St. (MWC Champ)
13.  Marshall (C-USA Champ)
14.  Northern Illinois (MAC Champ)
15.  Memphis (AAC Champ)
16.  Georgia Southern (Sun Belt Champ)

This would produce some great matchups and great drama, while discovering one true champion.  However, as the college football landscape continues to change the lower conferences, or "Group of 5" as they are called now, are not quite as prevalent and strong as they have been in recent years.  I like the some of the ideas of the new playoff system so I have decided that the two concepts need to combine.  Here is the ideal next step that could be the best system for today's FBS is as follows...

Eight team playoff.  The eight teams would be made up of the conference champs from the Power 5 conferences, the best team in the Group of 5 (much like what is done for the New Year's 6 bowls this year), and two Wild Card bids.  The committee would be charged with selecting the final three bids and seeding the field.  The quarterfinals would be played the week after the awards ceremonies (two weeks after conference championships) at the home stadium of the higher seed.  This also allows for less time between games.  Teams can change in that month between the end of the season and the bowl games.  Momentum is gained or lost, and quite often the results are much different than they would have been if they were played right after the season.  Then the semifinals and finals would be played exactly how they are now.  The losing teams in the quarterfinals would be placed in the New Year's 6 bowl games like they already are now.  This system would allow every one of the Power 5 conferences to truly be treated equally, allow an opportunity for a Group of 5 school to have a shot at the top prize (something they have never had), and still keep basically the same system that has already been set up.  (Like I said, I don't have a problem with the system they have except for the number.)  So here is what the field would look like and how it could play out.

First Four Out

Michigan State Spartans
Michigan St. - If there is a 2-loss team that has a resume that deserves consideration, it's Sparty.  Their two losses came to the Pac-12 champ and the Big Ten champ.  However, some shaky play down the stretch and playing in the dejected Big Ten, left them mostly forgotten about the second half of the season and on the outside looking in.

Ole Miss Rebels
Ole Miss - The Rebels ended up with three losses, but had some definite marquee wins over teams like Boise St. (MWC Champ), Memphis (AAC Champ), Alabama (SEC champ), and Mississippi St.  This got them close, however three losses is hard to overcome, especially a shutout massacre against Arkansas.

Arizona Wildcats
Arizona - Many thought Arizona had a shot at the final four if they were able to defeat Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game.  However, their poor performance in that game leaves them on the outside looking in.  This brings about one of the few flaws with a system like this.  Whoever loses the conference championship, like Arizona, often ends up below teams that weren't good enough to even make it to conference championships, like Michigan St. and Ole Miss.  If Arizona hadn't gotten beat so bad, they still may have had a shot, but the Heisman Trophy winner kicked them out.

Marshall Thundering Herd
Marshall - If they don't lose that bizarre shootout to Western Kentucky and go undefeated, I think they have to be the top team from the Group of 5.  Undefeated should trump everything (it did this year for Florida St.).


Mississippi State BulldogsAlabama Crimson Tide
# 8 Mississippi St. (or TCU) at # 1 Alabama - In our first quarterfinal, we have a rematch of a late season showdown.  An optional rule that could be instated is outlawing rematches in the quarterfinals if at all possible much like the MLB Playoffs used to do.  This would have Bama playing TCU instead.  However, we will look at the matchup this way.  Mississippi St. looked pretty bad the last month or so of the season, but they still only lost two games to Bama and Ole Miss.  They deserve the shot, even if that shot is going back to Tuscaloosa to do what they already failed once at.  Chances are they fail again as Bama is close to unstoppable at home.  Alabama def. Mississippi St, 31-16

Baylor BearsOhio State Buckeyes
# 5 Baylor at # 4 Ohio St. - Well let's just settle this debate on who deserved that last spot in the playoff once and for all.  The Buckeyes finished hot, even if it was with their third-string QB.  Third string at Ohio St. is better than first string at 75% of the schools in the nation though.  Outside of one random loss in West Virginia, Baylor has been flawless all year.  This would be such a fun game to see.  The difference might be the fact that it would be in Columbus.  I'm still not convinced Ohio St. can keep the momentum up with yet another leader at QB this year.  This is a toss up shootout.  Ohio St. def. Baylor, 47-42

TCU Horned FrogsOregon Ducks
# 7 TCU (or Mississippi St.) at # 2 Oregon - It wouldn't be out of the question to make the statement that either of these teams is the best team in the nation this year.  TCU has been nearly unstoppable outside of a last-second loss to Baylor.  Oregon, now healthy, is the most efficient team in the nation.  TCU going to Eugene would be a difficult game to win.  On the other hand, the Horned Frog defense might be the toughest defense Marcus Mariota would see since Michigan St. (at least the first three quarters of that game).  On the other hand, if TCU struggled this year, it was on the road.  With all these things considered, I'd go with the Ducks.  Oregon def. TCU, 33-27

Boise State BroncosFlorida State Seminoles
# 6 Boise St. at # 3 Florida St. - This would be a fascinating matchup.  First off, I decided to go with the policy that the Group of 5 representative would be slotted in at the 6th seed at the lowest.  This is because they are a conference champion and deserve to get some sort of treatment.  Also, matching them up with the #1 seed in the quarterfinals wouldn't be fair to either team.  Instead, we get a very intriguing matchup here.  Boise St. is a Power 5 team in a Group of 5 jersey.  They are better and more sound than almost any other opponent Florida St. faced this year.  The Seminoles struggled with a lot of mediocre teams this year and were able to sneak out a lot of wins because the mediocre teams couldn't put a consistent four quarters together.  I think the Broncos could.  If there would be an upset in the first round, this might be where you would see it.  With that said, I'd go with Jameis Winston sneaking out another one.  Boise St. is good, but they aren't as good as they have been in the past.  Florida St. def. Boise St., 20-17


Alabama Crimson TideOhio State Buckeyes
Sugar Bowl - # 1 Alabama vs. # 4 Ohio St. - So our final four ends up the same here.  So let's break down these matchups.  Urban Meyer knows what it takes to beat an SEC team.  He made his name doing that.  This year's incarnation of Bama is not what they have been in the past.  Even with a third-string quarterback, I truly think Ohio St. is the more talented team.  On a "neutral" field (as neutral as the Sugar Bowl can be for an SEC team), this looks like a game set up for the Buckeyes to take and bring some respectability back to the Big Ten.  Ohio St. def. Alabama, 38-28

Oregon DucksFlorida State Seminoles
Rose Bowl - # 2 Oregon vs. # 3 Florida St. - This would mark the first time Florida St. would play a team that has a talent level that either equals or exceeds their own.  Oregon is a battle-tested team as the Pac-12 was arguably the best conference in the nation this year.  The Seminoles will get off to their trademark slow start, and Oregon will never look back.  Their defense is good enough to hold off any late charges Jamies Winston tries to put together because the Ducks also get better in the 4th quarter.  This game may not even be close.  Oregon def. Florida St., 45-23

National Championship Game

Oregon DucksOhio State Buckeyes
# 2 Oregon vs. # 4 Ohio St. - For a sport that so many people want to think is run by the south, what a National Championship Game it would be to match up Oregon and Ohio.  This would be a fascinating matchup of two very similar teams in style, pace, and dominance.  I think this is the matchup where the injuries of the Buckeyes finally catches up to them.  It will be a hard fought game, but the Ducks pull it out in the end.  Oregon def. Ohio St., 38-24

The final result of this playoff scenario may not change, but that doesn't mean what we have is the way to go.  I love that we have a College Football Playoff!  However, the NCAA needs to realize that this is a step, not the solution.  This system I am proposing could be the solution.

What do you think?

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